Poverty Solutions Grant Awards

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Open Grant Opportunities

Faculty Request for Proposals (PDF)
Reviewed on a rolling basis
This is an open grant funding opportunity for faculty at University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses to pursue research projects focused on strategies to address poverty with effective, real-world solutions.

2020 Community-Academic Research Projects

These projects are co-sponsored by the Detroit Community-Academic Urban Research Center, and researchers and community representatives work as equal partners to pursue action-oriented research questions and interventions strategies that will benefit the communities involved.

Over the past decade, there has been an increase in the number of microenterprise development and neighborhood entrepreneurship training programs in Detroit. The impetus of these programs is to stimulate urban economic development and neighborhood revitalization in the city’s underserved communities. 

The aim of this study is to evaluate these programs collectively with respect to outcomes of new venture growth, wealth creation, and upward economic mobility in these communities.  Specifically, this study seeks to understand and explore the impact of these programs on low- to moderate-income entrepreneurs in these communities and discover best practices in urban entrepreneurial development and wealth creation. Since the primary thrust of entrepreneurship is value creation, the goal of this study is to examine how entrepreneurship can catalyze upward economic mobility among people with low to moderate incomes in an urban environment. 

Marcus D. Harris, University of Michigan-Dearborn College of Business
Michael Gordon, Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan
Nicole Farmer, Grand Innovation
April Boyle, Build Institute
Jacquise Purifoy, Build Institute
Crystal J. Scott, University of Michigan-Dearborn College of Business
Jeffrey Robinson, Rutgers Business School 

The goal of this project is to assess the feasibility of using grocery delivery to strengthen services related to the special supplemental nutrition program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) by improving access to and use of food benefits during pregnancy. Grocery delivery, a well-established and inexpensive service, removes logistical barriers to obtaining healthy foods but is underused by low-income populations. The objective of this work is to evaluate whether young pregnant women want and are able to order WIC-covered foods online (feasibility/acceptability) and whether doing so impacts their diet and weight gain during pregnancy. The researchers hypothesize that online ordering of WIC-covered foods will be convenient and will increase consumption of fruits and vegetables. These findings will provide critical evidence to the USDA and State WIC agencies on the impact of expanding online ordering of groceries to include WIC beneficiaries as it currently only allows for some SNAP (food stamp) beneficiaries. 

The aims of this project are two-fold. Firstly, researchers will examine the feasibility and acceptability of online ordering of WIC-covered foods measured by both: 1) the number of young pregnant women who are successfully able to independently order online, and by 2) interviews to assess their satisfaction with the process. Secondly, using text message surveys and automated home scales, researchers will assess the impact of food delivery on diet quality and weight gain during pregnancy among young pregnant women age 14-24 years of age, living in three Michigan counties: Genesee, Wayne, and Washtenaw. 

Gayathri Akella, Washtenaw County Health Department WIC
Tammy Chang, University of Michigan Department of Family Medicine
Marika Waselewski, University of Michigan Department of Family Medicine

This proposal will combine the African traditions of generative economy with contemporary technology design to create an AfricanFuturist greenhouse. The greenhouse exterior will be designed by local artists from the African American community to provide aesthetic fit to the museum surroundings. The interior will be designed and prototyped by University of Michigan students, such that it can grow the plant materials for bead creation. It will also supply fresh vegetables and, from an aquaponics tank, fresh fish. By using photoelectric and thermal solar energy, as well as a rain catchment system, the team will create a small scale model for what could become a broader set of self-sufficient, sustainable urban practices that restore the links between living, making and growing which is so important to Indigenous traditions. 

Of central importance, these Indigenous traditions of generative economy include reciprocal relations between human and nonhuman value generation. This project will update that using contemporary techniques to grow the feedstock that becomes the beadwork and other adornment sold in the bead museum. Add the technology of solar power, rain catchment, agricultural robotics and AI soil monitoring, and we have a platform for bringing together Detroit economic and resource needs with U-M innovation and experimentation.

Ron Eglash, University of Michigan School of Information
Audrey Bennett, University of Michigan Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design
Olayami Dabls, MBAD/ABA African Bead Museum

 

2020 Poverty Solutions Faculty Grants

The COVID-19 pandemic is creating conditions in Detroit and across the country that have led to novel cases of need at the intersection of food and transportation insecurity. In response, the City of Detroit’s Parks & Recreation Division and Innovation Team, in partnership with Gleaners, United Way of Southeastern Michigan, Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency, Detroit Health Department, University of Michigan, Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries, and other community stakeholders, created and expanded the COVID-19 Food Delivery Program. Although the program found initial success, it was only able to serve a fraction of the Detroiters experiencing food insecurity and lack of access to adequate transportation. More than 30,000 Detroiters likely meet the existing program’s criteria, and this project will examine a more comprehensive and sustainable solution.

Researchers will support the COVID-19 Food Delivery Program’s maintenance and the (re)design, implementation, and program evaluation of the (re)design. Our efforts will be guided by sustainability recommendations that we are currently developing. The project will recommend both policy and direct service approaches to best meet the need and address the root causes of this intersection during and after the pandemic.

Robert Hampshire, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy


The COVID-19 pandemic has been especially damaging to communities of color in the United States. Disproportionate rates of illness and death have combined with higher rates of unemployment, precarious access to medical care, and overburdened supportive services to intensify the impact on Black and Latino individuals, families, and neighborhoods.  An especially important case is Puerto Rico, where a long-running economic crisis exacerbated by severe hurricane damage has decimated the medical system. Yet while the impact of COVID-19 on these communities is widely recognized, there is still very little information about how their members are coping with policy restrictions imposed to stem the pandemic or their views of the pandemic’s origins and potential cures.  

This project aims to fill this knowledge gap by conducting an online survey of 1,000 Black and Latino respondents in the United States and 500 respondents in Puerto Rico. The survey will draw from 10 cities and metro areas selected for the size of their Black and Latino population and for the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, including Detroit / Highland Park, Michigan; Dearborn, Michigan; New York City; Miami; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Los Angeles; Chicago; New Orleans; Atlanta; and Houston. This targeted sampling will add to findings from the “People and Pandemics: Studying International Coping and Compliance” study led by an interdisciplinary team of researchers at U-M. The goal is to offer insights into the unique experiences of Black and Latino populations related to COVID-19 health impact, attitudes toward vaccination,  employment and income support, and communication network for information about the pandemic. 

Ann Chih Lin, U-M Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy
Ana Patricia Esqueda, second year PhD student in developmental psychology
Twila Tardif, U-M College of Literature, Science and the Arts
Lydwan Perez Westerband, MD student at the University of Puerto Rico


This grant will allow Sara Heller, an assistant professor of economics at U-M, to expand on three current research projects that can provide evidence to guide the development of effective interventions aimed at low-income youth. 

  • Evaluation of Philadelphia WorkReady: Heller ran a randomized controlled trial of Philadelphia’s youth summer job program, called WorkReady, in the summers of 2017 and 2018 to see whether the job program reduced criminal justice involvement among youth, improved their educational outcomes, and reduced outcomes like use of mental health services, homeless shelters, and child protection services. This grant will support data analysis and reporting the results from that study. 
  • Reducing problem behaviors and improving employability in Job Corps: Job Corps is the nation’s largest education and job training program for youth who are neither employed nor in school. Heller is currently working with researchers at Harvard University to develop a randomized controlled trial examining how the use of cognitive behavioral therapy curriculum at Job Corps centers affects disciplinary incidents at the centers and youth employment after leaving Job Corps. This grant will support the launch of the pilot portion of that study. 
  • Peer effects to reduce youth crime and violence: Heller is beginning a new study that builds on multiple randomized controlled trials she’s run in the past to identify interventions that have reduced youth involved in the criminal justice system and violence in Chicago. This new study will identify the peer networks of co-offenders and co-victims and assess whether there’s spillover within a peer network after youth receive an intervention and change their behavior. This grant will support the early stages of that study. 

Sara Heller, U-M College of Literature, Science and the Arts


This project aims to better understand how students make decisions about what to pursue after high school, and the role of family, school, geographic context, and available financial aid in shaping those decisions. The research will consist of interviews with 50 University of Michigan students and their parents who live in cities in Southeast Michigan or suburban and rural areas outside Southeast Michigan. 

The U-M students selected to participate in the study will be recipients of free tuition and scholarship offers, including the HAIL scholarship and Go Blue Guarantee. The study will test the mechanisms that influence students’ college decisions, like personalized offers compared to general information and an unconditional promise of a four-year full scholarship compared to eligibility for free tuition.

Susan Dynarski, U-M School of Education; School of Public Policy; and College of Literature, Science and the Arts
Stefanie DeLuca, Johns Hopkins Krieger School of Arts and Sciences


The national system for preventing and addressing homelessness, known as the Continuum of Care (CoC), is not well understood and the capacity of these systems to successfully address homelessness has never been evaluated. To prevent and reduce increasing rates of child and family homelessness, we must understand:

  • How are homeless services governed and funded across the Continuums of Care?
  • What is the capacity of CoCs to prevent child and family homelessness?
  • What governing arrangements are associated with best practices for reducing child and family homelessness?

To answer these questions, this project will develop and field a survey of all 402 federal Continuums of Care to better understand the governance and funding structures of the CoCs, to identify CoCs facing gaps in service capacity, and to identify exemplary models of service delivery that can be used to improve systems in limited-capacity regions. The researchers aim to develop guidelines and disseminate recommendations for CoC leadership and policy stakeholders to strengthen CoC capacity.

Julia Wolfson, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Charley Willison, Harvard University Department of Health Care Policy
Scott L. Greer, U-M School of Public Health


Many Flint residents still do not have confidence in the quality of their municipal drinking water, despite the use of filtration systems. This project aims to support progress within the Flint community to build knowledge of point-of-use water filtration systems designed to provide clean drinking water for Flint students and residents and to promote confidence in water use. The goal is better understand the most effective mode of sharing information about how different treated drinking waters are processed, so individuals can make decisions on the best water hydration choice for themselves.

The research has two aims:

  • Create new materials for an existing train-the-trainers point-of-use water filter training module and evaluate the effectiveness of the training program, resulting in recommendations on how train-the-trainer approaches can be effectively used in community water quality interventions; and 
  • Establish a Knowledge Inspired Decisions for School Drinking Water (KIDS for Drinking Water) taskforce involving Flint Community Schools staff and students that will develop actionable steps that result in understanding and knowledge retention about the quality of drinking water processed through point-of-use filter systems compared to bottled water. 

Nancy G. Love, U-M Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Marc Zimmerman, U-M Department of Psychology


Presidential candidates in the 2020 election have made income inequality a major issue. While many candidates have introduced comprehensive tax policies, there has been little research done to understand the impact of income gains from various tax policy proposals on long-term health outcomes. This study is designed to collate evidence around the link between income and health and examine the implications for current proposals to redistribute income and wealth. 

Researchers will conduct a systematic literature review to gather and analyze existing research on health gains associated with previous income and wealth tax policies on the U.S. population. Then, they will apply these findings in decision analytic models to determine the potential life expectancy effects of different income and wealth tax scenarios, including the presidential candidates’ policy proposals. Policymakers can use this review to inform the development of future policy proposals aimed at income and wealth redistribution.

Daniel Eisenberg, U-M School of Public Health
David W. Hutton, U-M School of Public Health
Anton L.V. Avanceña, doctoral candidate, U-M School of Public Health
Bradley Iott, doctoral candidate, U-M School of Public Health
Ellen Kim DeLuca, doctoral candidate, U-M School of Public Health


This project aims to examine the potential for inequity resulting from variation in the actual care provided by clinicians and hospital personnel to children and their families. Considerable research demonstrates differences by gender, income, race and ethnicity in the way adult patients are provided care across numerous conditions (e.g., heart attacks, treatment for pain, diagnostic testing). However, with very rare exceptions, similar studies have not been conducted with regard to the care of children. This program provides the first critical steps in beginning a process to assess the perceptions of inequities at Mott Hospital. Discussions with nursing, clerical and therapy staff have identified several potential areas where hypothesized inequities in the way families are provided care may exist. Three of these areas were prioritized by the leadership of Mott Hospital for initial assessment. If inequities are found, the Quality Improvement Department at Mott Hospital will design and implement QI programs to address them.

Dr. Gary Freed, Michigan Medicine and School of Public Health


Household debt has been on the rise in the U.S. for the past three decades. These debts accrue in a variety of ways from attempting to climb the ladder of opportunity (student loans), seeking stability for one’s family (housing), making ends meet when money is tight (credit cards), getting sick or injured (healthcare), traveling to work (auto loans), or simply trying to keep the lights on (utilities). The growth of household debt is well studied, but what happens with that debt is far murkier and vital for understanding the contingent outcomes of indebted households and low-income communities.

How are debt collection strategies driving neighborhood instability for low-income residents? This question requires a systematic approach to understanding three particular areas:

  1. The relationship between the use of civil courts for collections, wage garnishments, and federal bankruptcy filing;
  2. The relationship between debt buyers and creditors; and
  3. The impact of debt on neighborhood stability pre- and post-bankruptcy.

By combining this data we will be able to generate the first systematic look at the ways in which
debt impacts low- and moderate-income housing markets in Detroit. This makes it possible to identify gaps in current policies where the full impact of debt collection strategies, legal remedies, and their impacts on low-income residents may not be fully considered.

Joshua Akers, University of Michigan – Dearborn
Eric Seymour, Rutgers University


The COVID-19 pandemic and the societal changes it has prompted in the United States are profoundly and quickly changing American life. This survey research study we will field an online survey to measure the effect of the COVID-19 outbreak on food insecurity in the United States. Wave one of the survey of low-income adults (which began data collection on March 19, 2020) measures concerns about COVID-19, how the outbreak is effecting employment and income, childcare, and food access. The survey also will ask about receipt of government benefits such as SNAP, WIC and TANF, and free and reduced price school meals, and it will measure anxiety, depression, stress, and food insecurity. The second wave of the survey (anticipated to be fielded in June 2020) also will measure anxiety, depression, stress and food insecurity, low-income adults’ experience with the COVID-19 pandemic, the associated government
measures to contain it, and the government policies to support people/businesses
affected by COVID-19.

More information: Coronavirus pandemic worsens food insecurity for low-income adults

Food Insecurity During COVID-19: An Acute Crisis with Long-term Health Implications, from the American Journal of Public Health Editorials

Julia Wolfson, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Cindy Leung, U-M School of Public Health


People living in poverty have limited access to financial resources that permits economic exchange. In turn, this limits formal economic participation. Prior research has shown that alternative, local currency systems, used alongside national currency systems (like USD), can enhance local economies by helping people experiencing poverty initiate or participate in economically productive activities. In the USA and in Detroit in particular, time dollars provide one such alternative currency. Timebanks are nonprofit organizations through which members earn “time dollars” for providing services to other members. In timebanks, every person’s time is worth the same amount, and a wide variety of services are exchanged. For example, a timebank member teaching another person to cook healthy meals that can then be shared.This project explores how one alternative currency: time dollars, and the exchanges surrounding them, can be used to help communities to solve challenges associated with resource scarcity. In this case, researchers will examine the scarce resource of non-emergency medical transportation within the city of Detroit. Researchers will examine a new system designed to improve healthcare access for underserved communities in Western Detroit. This project will result in designs of timebanking systems for transportation that incorporate skill development, trust and reciprocity. This will inform programs for poverty alleviation, and specifically, how alternate currencies can be expanded to better serve low-income populations and foster their economic participation while solving their transportation challenges.

Tiffany Veinot, U-M School of Information
Tawanna Dillahunt, U-M School of Information


Water affordability and access in the City of Detroit is a growing concern for city officials, area residents, and community groups working in the city. In this project, the researcher will work with the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD), Office of Sustainability, and the Detroit Health Department (DHD) to examine how the broader context of poverty – specifically housing conditions – affects water affordability for city residents. 

The research has three aims:

  1. Determine the extent to which undetected leaks in residential homes contribute to unaffordable water bills for low-income Detroit households.
  2. Collaborate with the DWSD and DHD to evaluate their Shutoff Prevention Pilot and understand how housing challenges affect water affordability.
  3. Use the findings to develop policy recommendations for the City of Detroit and other U.S. cities that can address water affordability by focusing on the challenges created by housing conditions.

Sara Hughes, U-M School for Environment and Sustainability


Young people should participate in institutions and decisions that affect their lives, but youth are not usually involved when adults make anti-poverty policy decisions. The purpose of the project is to amplify the voices of young people in community-based strategies against poverty. Groups affiliated with the Summer Youth Dialogues on Race and Ethnicity in Metropolitan Detroit Program and Urban Neighborhood Initiatives will work together to design a research project on educational inequalities and formulate strategies to address those inequalities. 

The intergenerational research team made up of youth and adult allies will decide what they want to learn, formulate the research questions they will ask, and identify sources of information. They will gather and analyze information to answer their research questions, draw conclusions, and make recommendations for action. The research team will prepare and disseminate a report, and youth will develop public speaking and storytelling skills to communicate what they’ve learned with people in metro Detroit as well as through the Youth Civil Rights Academy’s online platform

Katie Richards-Schuster, U-M School of Social Work
Barry Checkoway, U-M School of Social Work